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BLOCK SEVENTEEN by Kimiko Guthrie


by Kimiko Guthrie

Pub Date: June 23rd, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-982-678-40-1
Publisher: Blackstone

A young woman is haunted by frightening phenomena in a debut novel about the lingering impact of WWII Japanese internment camps in the U.S.

Akiko, the book’s first-person narrator, has long been uncomfortable with her Japanese heritage on her mother’s side, changing her name to Jane as a girl and choosing not to speak Japanese with family. Now in her 30s, engaged to Shiro, Jane is adrift, unemployed, and worried that her mother, Sumi, seems to have disappeared again as she did in Jane’s teens. Jane can’t seem to connect with her in real life, although Sumi has a robust existence on social media. Meanwhile, Shiro, who works for the Transportation Security Administration at the Oakland airport, is so enraged by the racism and sexual harassment he sees on his job that he's secretly making and posting videos about it. As Jane frets about both of them, she is having disturbing dreams, or perhaps hallucinations, or maybe they are memories, but not all her own. She tells her story to a “you” whose identity is only gradually revealed. In brief third-person chapters, we learn about Sumi’s past: As a young child, she was interned with her family during World War II in camps in California and Arkansas, where a secret tragedy occurred. As Sumi drifts into cyberspace and Shiro sinks into paranoia, Jane’s sanity grows ever more tenuous, and the novel suffers from an overload of unreliable narrators. The prose is uneven, sometimes striking in its bizarre images, other times clunky in its exposition. But the surreal story and its linkage of past and present remain compelling even if the dark power they generate is undercut by an oddly cheery ending.

A 21st-century ghost story offers chills in this uneven but promising debut.